On today’s “A Little Bit of Blake” I’m trying something a bit different. One of the hardest things for me during this time of isolation and social distancing, is not being able to meet up with friends for a coffee and a chat, especially my fellow author Becky Wright. As some of you probably know, Becky and I have been friends forever and both being writers it means that when we meet up – as we do at least once a month – we always have plenty to talk about and know exactly where the other one is coming from. Sadly, we’ve had to miss this month’s get together but, through the wonders of modern technology, we were able to have a virtual coffee and chat instead.
As I know this must be one of the hardest aspects of the current situation for others out there, we thought it would be nice to post our chat here. So, why not grab yourself the beverage of your choice, and curl up and have coffee with a pair of friends, mums and authors as they chat about their past, their present and their future.
Hi Becky, do you have coffee?
I have coffee.
Cool, let’s do this then. Okay, so I’ve been trying to think about when we first met. Was it 2004 or 2005? I know it was before Miss F started school.
I think it was 2005, yes, I think it must have been.
I think so too. We met at an evening course at our local college for creative writing. I was there because a friend has asked me to go with her. Her request made me remember how much I’d used to love writing, you know, before life, marriage and having a baby took over. That’s why I went, why did you?
It was at a time when life was very much full-on with work and kids. I didn’t realise at the time how much I needed something for myself, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever did. I’d been writing my first book for while, but up until then I hadn’t connected with anyone else who had the same passion for words and writing.
It was the same for me. It wasn’t until I was sitting in that classroom on that first evening with a bunch of strangers, that I suddenly realised how much I missed writing. As you know, I was going through the divorce from hell at that time. I’d been left with a very young child to raise completely on my own. Like you, I needed something that was mine and when my friend asked me to accompany her on the course, it sparked that desire to such an extent that I begged my mother to babysit for a couple of hours each week so I could go.
I remember that first evening. Initially I was so worried that I’d be out of my depth and would feel out of place. Back then, the feeling of not being good enough was at its height. I remember that I gave myself a good talking to on the way in… then I realised most of us felt the same way.
Yes, we did, well I certainly did. Now, I don’t know what your first impressions were of me, but I remember mine of you – a lovely, happy, beautiful lady with a big beaming smile and what seemed tons of confidence.
Blimey, confidence? Ha, that’s not what I was feeling. I remember looking at you and thinking you could be a kindred spirit. And boy, was I right.
So, there we sat. A group of about twenty, mostly women, but I think there were a couple of men there as well, looking a bit out of place.
Yes, I think there were a couple of men, I seem to remember a few drifted after a week or so.
I think there were a few went MIA, I don’t know why, maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting. Was it what you were expecting and hoping for?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I’d never attended anything of the like since leaving school, of course. And with teenage children my brain cells had dried up a little… but, I think what I got most from that course was a connection with other people with the same passion for words. The only thing on that course that I really struggled with, and still do for that matter, was reading aloud. You know how much I hate that, I seem to stumble over every word, even though I wrote them.
Whereas I’ve never had a problem with reading aloud or performing in front of strangers. I guess all those years doing amateur dramatics turned out to be good for something.
Yes, see you’re so lucky to have that skill. Unlike me, I’d always rather try to fade into the wallpaper.
I do remember that first evening though, the instructor, Emma, gave us a list of words such as mobile phone, P45, tin of baked beans and various others that I can’t remember now, and gave us 30 minutes to write a short story containing all those words.
Ah yes, I remember that now. I have no idea what I came up with but think it probably wouldn’t be worth reading today.
I’m sure it wasn’t, I’m sure I remember yours being very good. Anyway, at the end of the thirty minutes Emma asked for someone to read theirs out loud. Everyone stared at the desk and kept their hands firmly down. In the end, because I felt sorry for Emma, I said okay, I’ll go first, and I read what I’d written. It was a short story called “Family Matters” and many years later it ended up in my book “Eclairs for Tea and other stories”.
Oh yes, I would have had my head and my hands firmly down. But isn’t it funny how things from all those years ago have followed us to the present? “The Manningtree Account” as you know, had its origins in one of those weekly homework tasks Emma used to set us.
I do remember you freaked everyone out in the class when you read us what would later become “The Manningtree Account”. It was so atmospheric and creepy. But how did you feel after that first evening? I went home on fire with ideas and inspiration, and the next day I began writing my first ever novel.
I remember we walked out to the carpark together and stood chatting for a bit. We found out we both lived in town and you said I should come over for coffee sometime. I went home not only feeling I’d achieved something quite momentous for me. I wasn’t an outgoing or confident person, so the fact I’d made the effort to go, had sat through the whole first class and really loved it was amazing. I did nothing but talk about it for days afterwards and spent the whole of the following week writing. It had given me that much needed boost.
Did I ever tell you I very nearly left after the second week and not come back?
Oh my gosh, no, why? You seemed so in your element there, comfortable, like you belonged. I envied that a little, I felt like an imposter for a while.
Oh, trust me, my confidence is all an act put on for other people. Inside I’m a marshmallow of doubt and insecurity.
We’re all soft on the inside, darling.
Anyway, do you remember the rather abrasive mother who was there with her heavily pregnant young daughter?
Oh yes, vaguely.
Well, that second week I was so looking forward to going. I’d really enjoyed the first class and had written 10,000 words of a novel so was excited to see everyone again. We’d all barely sat down when the mother said she had an issue she’d like to raise with the tutor. She said her daughter had been very reluctant to come back and that she felt certain people shouldn’t be allowed to be part of the group. Then she looked straight at me and bluntly told me she believed I shouldn’t be there because I was making everyone else too nervous to have any input, that she felt I was a professional writer and that as this was a group for amateurs and those just starting it wasn’t the right group for me.
Ooh cow! How dare she? People like that certainly have an issue with the chip on their own shoulder.
For a moment I felt like taking all my clothes off so I really would be back at school having a nightmare! But then several people stuck up for me, you included, and Emma made it quite plain it was a course for everyone and that I’d paid my money the same as everyone else had, so could stay or go as I pleased.
Oh, my goodness, I remember that now! I seem to remember she was a bit sheepish after that yet was still a bit snarky to you for the rest of the course. Sadly, we come across people like that a lot in life.
I spent the rest of the evening in silence listening to everyone else. I remember I didn’t speak and kept looking around wondering if that was how everyone else was feeling. All my insecurities were bubbling to the surface and I wanted to cry. I seriously thought about not coming back again, but at the end of the evening when I walked out to my car, you and several others followed me and told me not to take it to heart, that I shouldn’t listen to such petty jealousy and certainly not let it upset me. That was the only reason why I came back the following week, that and the fact I’d paid good money for that course and I’d be damned if I’d let the spite of one person spoil it for me.
It was petty jealousy. We see so much of it. But you have always had a talent. You’ve honed it over the years, but even back then it was something to be proud of. That is why we were there after all, well certainly that’s why you and I were there. To my knowledge, I don’t believe anyone else from that course went on to have writing careers. I feel proud of us both for that.
Aww, thank you honey, and it’s strange to think that that course was the spark for both of us. That something special happened there and then. I remember after the last evening, a group of us gathered in the carpark chatting for ages. We didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to let go of what we’d found. We swapped numbers and as I was the only one who lived in the town centre and had a young child I couldn’t leave, I invited everyone around to meet at mine the following week to continue what had begun on that course.
I did feel bereft that evening. It had only been a few weeks but those evenings in class had become a lifeline for me. Home life was so complicated and difficult at that time. It was my escape, somewhere I could just be me, just be Becky. Then you saved us, meeting up at yours every week, our core group, well, it kept me going. If it weren’t for our writing club, I might have left my book sitting there and it would never have seen the light of day.
Our writing club saved me as well. I think out of the five or six members of the group, we were the ones truly dedicated to writing a book. We used to read to each other what we’d written during the week. Very often, the others had nothing to contribute, but we always made the effort to produce something. I know I wrote as though I were on fire. Miss F was still very young and napped for Britain, so every spare moment I had I would write. Knowing that the group would be expecting the next instalment the following week, gave me the incentive I needed.
I always felt amazed at how much you could write in those days what with working, and with such a young child as she was then. I did my best to bring what I could with me. Fitting writing around four children and working full-time was tricky – my word, life was so crazy back then. How on earth did we manage to cram it all in? I know it was the same for you, it was such a passion.
You were working on “Remember to Love Me” then and still playing with “The Manningtree Account” and sometimes you’d bring other short stories and flash fiction along, and it was always breathtakingly good and so atmospheric.
Writing for me back then was a healing tool. It took me out of my own life – creating misery for someone else took my mind off my own! “Remember to Love Me” had been part of my life for four years by then. It had taken me so long to write, we both know I’m not such a fast writer as you. I think creating the problems, misery and sadness of my characters was a way of distancing myself from life.
I think that was true for me as well. My life was so hard. I was really struggling financially, raising a small child alone, working and trying to keep it all together. Writing for me was both cathartic and an escape. During the years of our writing group, I finished “Becoming Lili”, “Erinsmore”, “Lost & Found”, “The Book of Eve”, “Lifesong” and “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~” and of course, THAT book, the first I ever wrote, which I don’t think will ever see the light of day!
Oh yes, THAT book! Lol.
Yes, THAT book. The book that shall not be named.
Maybe one day it will be both named and published.
Hmm, I don’t know. Do you think the world will ever be ready for it? Perhaps now we’ve had 50 Shades of Grey it might be.
50 Shades certainly broke down barriers, even if it was the only thing it did for the literary world. Sorry, not a big fan.
Neither am I, but the level of sexuality in that book did pave the way for writers to be a little more… hmm, expressive in their novels, shall we say?
It made sex more accessible and more mainsteam, but THAT book has a far more intricate plot and far more interesting characters than 50 Shades.
But the thing I remember most about our group wasn’t just the writing side, but the fact it became so much more than that. Remember all those birthday lunches and trips out? Like the time we all hopped on a train and went to Norwich for the day? We went for a fabulously boozy lunch then fell into a taxi and went to see a beautiful ballet at the theatre.
We’ve had so many incredible trips away – usually involving prosecco – all those theatre trips and hotel weekends.
Are you referring to the infamous archaeological weekend we went on?
Our trip to Stonehenge, that always sticks in my mind, it was brilliant. I loved it.
So, did I. A whole weekend away from the family and real life. Do you remember the famous archaeologist Julian Richards of the TV series “Meet the Ancestors” was with our group for the whole weekend?
Julian Richards, yes, he was great. We picked his brains the whole trip. Even the miles we hiked down the avenue to Stonehenge was amazing. It quite took my breath away. I remember getting all emotional when it came into view over the brow of the hill.
They’d said there would be a champagne reception the first evening we arrived, as a “meet and greet” so we got dressed up to the nines, gorgeous frocks, fully made up, heels and jewellery. We went down and found a room full of very earnest looking elderly people all dressed in hiking clothes and staring at us as if we’d just arrived from Mars!
We did make a bit of an entrance, but then we always did like to dress for the occasion and after all, you can never have too much sparkle.
We looked at one another, then strutted into that room as if we owned it. And we did! We totally did! We were the youngest there by a good twenty years and even if I do say so myself, probably the most attractive!
I also remember they’d stated only one glass of fizz or wine per person. Well, we weren’t having that.
Oh no we weren’t! What a stupid rule. Oh no, that was never going to happen. We charmed and flirted and made friends with the waiter and voila, our glasses were never empty for the whole weekend!
Julian also made a beeline for us and never really left. He made sure he was on our table not just that night, but the next one as well. He was most attentive to our grilling him on everything historical, and I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact we were a good two decades younger than everyone else.
Do you remember though, that first night he looked us up and down and eyed our footwear. Then in a very concerned voice asked if we were aware how muddy and rough the terrain would be the next day? We pulled big eyes and said, “Oh, so you mean what we’re wearing won’t do?”
Yes, I do. I honestly think everyone thought we were serious, until we rocked up next morning appropriately dressed. I don’t think anyone recognised us at first.
Nope, we were all professional in chinos, waterproof jackets and proper walking boots.
I remember getting him to sign his book on Stonehenge and feeling quite in awe. Isn’t it funny that we now sign our own books for others?
I got him to sign mine to Miss F, and I still have it somewhere.
I have mine too.
I remember we went to the theatre a LOT during this time. I think your home life was going through a critical time and you just wanted to escape.
The theatre was the air that we breathed back then. Whether it was locally or in London. I loved our London trip when we stayed in a boutique hotel and went to see “Phantom of the Opera”.
That would have been in 2007 because it was my 40th birthday present from everyone.
I seem to remember the Italian waiter where we went for lunch taking quite a shine to me.
Oh my, I remember that waiter! You shameless woman, but it did get us free drinks with our desserts and how many after dinner mints, did we get?!
Free drinks and lots of after dinner mints – it was worth a little flirting! Although he did ask me for my number!
You never told me that!! Hussy!
He never got it of course.
Hmm. The next day we had a massive breakfast then managed to fit in a tour of London, Madam Tussauds and the Tower of London before catching our bus home. Stupidly, I was wearing brand new heeled boots. The state of my feet by Sunday evening! Ten screaming blisters where my toes used to be, but totally worth it.
I wore heels too that weekend, oh, how we suffered for fashion back then! I loved that weekend so much. I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” again this January, I love it so much I’d gladly go again.
Maybe we will when this is all over. But then time passed, and life got busy for everyone and, as usually happens, the group started to drift apart. We stuck together the longest though, even when in the end it was just the two of us.
It was hard keeping it all together. Relations became a little strained with certain members of the group. It was always so much easier and more relaxed when I came alone for dinner armed with a fattening dessert. Especially when I’d managed to arrange a lift home afterwards so we could open a bottle of red.
Yes, there were a few personality clashes and there began to be negative vibes from certain people that simply didn’t happen when it was just us two. And it was during this time that you published “Remember to Love Me” with a lavish launch party where you looked amazing!
Oh, the “Remember to Love Me” launch party! That was a strange thing. Being the centre of attention was extremely difficult for me, but it was wonderful that so many people attended. Launches are not done like that anymore. Maybe it’s for the best, at least now I can wear my PJ’s when I release a new book! But I must say – that dress! Dark emerald satin with the highest black sandals known to woman, it was beautiful.
It certainly was a gorgeous dress. A few years after that we drifted apart ourselves, which I deeply regret and don’t know why it happened. I think you were going through a tough divorce and then starting afresh, and I don’t know if maybe I reminded you too much of your old life and a past you were trying to escape from.
Life had been difficult for many years and of course, things inevitably came to a head. The divorce was hard, not just in the practical and emotional respect but on my children. For a very long while things got too much, and mentally I wasn’t in a good place. I found the only way I could survive from day to day was to hibernate. I was working full-time in a completely different sphere from what I was used to and then I met James….
Anyway, fast forward to Christmas 2016. I’d published “The Book of Eve” through a small press the Christmas before but sales were dire. I was so naïve about the whole publishing process and didn’t really have an internet presence, other than a private Facebook account that friends and family were on. They didn’t really want to see endless posts about my books, and I didn’t really know how to promote myself or what to do. I was a bit stuck. I’d also just been diagnosed with a growth in my abdomen and was scheduled for surgery in February 2017. Things were tough. I certainly didn’t have any plans to publish anything else and had given up on my dream of being a published author. I hadn’t heard anything from you for several years when suddenly, out of the blue, you messaged me through Facebook. I was stunned and so happy to hear from you.
I was planning to re-release “Remember to Love Me” and was scrolling though Amazon one day when something made me look up Julia Blake. When I found “The Book of Eve” I knew it was a sign that I had to get in touch. I just knew if I could do this on my own, then so could you. There were far more options now for independent authors than ever before, when it used to be traditional or seedy vanity press only. I just knew we had to do this together. After all, we’d begun this journey together, there was no way I was going to do this without you.
I couldn’t believe it was you! We chatted for a couple of weeks. You told me how you’d republished “Remember to Love Me” as an indie author. With your help and encouragement, I started my Instagram page and you introduced me to your friends on there, who were so kind and supportive.
I didn’t really know back then what sort of advertising we needed to do. Only that we did. We had social media at our fingertips, something we hadn’t had back when we started.
Plus, Instagram was such fun. A warm, encouraging and supportive place to connect with writers and readers alike. You persuaded me to give it a go and we decided that my old novella, “Lifesong” would be a perfect way for me to dip my toe in the water, as it were. It was short enough to make it manageable and I’d release it as an eBook so it would be easy for me to try my wings out on. So, once I was released from hospital and had to spend three weeks resting at home, you came over and we spent the whole day sorting out “Lifesong”.
We sat there all day, and you kept us topped up with coffee while we formatted and created a cover for it and uploaded it. And there it was. You were an indie author. “Lifesong” was the perfect book to start with.
You were going to release “The Manningtree Account” as an eBook at the same time.
“The Manningtree Account” now that was something that also came into creation from that writing course all those years before. Releasing “Lifesong” inspired me to go back and look at those stories I’d created back then with fresh eyes. “Manningtree” had stayed with me all that time and I knew it was the one I wanted to publish next… suitably creepy to reflect how my writing style was evolving. Isn’t it funny how far we’ve come in the publishing game?
It is. Just look at us now! You published “The Manningtree Account” and then “Daughters of the Oak” which was when I think it all kicked off for you. It was then you really found your voice.
Yes, I’d like to think I’ve now found my voice and where I sit among the genres. All my books are very gothic in feel, some more than others, but they are all ghost stories at their core even if their feet are planted in other genres such as romance and horror. My current novel that I’m desperately trying to finish for this Autumn is again dark, full of ghosts, and so much more.
You’ve grown into your persona as an author, you really have.
Thank you. And so, have you, you really are an author for all seasons.
Oh, I think that’s because my butterfly brain can’t settle to any one thing, that’s why I jump from genre to genre. But then the release of “Mr Stoker & I” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that your path is a dark and twisting one.
Very dark. Very twisting. “Mr Stoker & I” is very special to me. Probably more so than any other. Lucy still resides inside me, every so often whispering to me. She will not make a come back in any form, although readers have asked me to, but for those who have read “Mr Stoker & I” and know how her story ends, maybe she is still wandering the East Cliff of Whitby. But there are plans to revisit Blackthorn Manor in the future.
Good. I know your many readers will be very pleased to hear that. I think my favourite spooky tale connected with you though, is the one that happened in real life, and that’s the story of how you “made up” your husband long before you ever met him.
Ahh, my very own James Wright.
Yes, please tell me the story again.
We first meet Lance Corporal James Wright in chapter four of “Remember to Love Me”. When I wrote his character way back in 2000 it was more than a decade before my own fateful meeting with my very own James Wright. After my divorce I started working in a hotel. I was the duty manager so was on duty most of the time. James was the head chef, so was working equally long hours. We met and I knew instantly that we had connected. Very soon he became my friend, my confidante and the one person I talked to the most about work, life and everything. Romance blossomed and I realised I had discovered my “Mr Wright” after all. He really is my other half. It is very eerie.
You are so lucky and that’s such an amazing story, it must have been fate. And of course, the fairytale didn’t end there, did it?
I not sure I believe in fate, but I do believe that if we lay ourselves open to possibilities then wonderful things can happen, and no, the fairytale didn’t end there. We’ve been married five years now and have our son, who’s now six. And yes, I do realise how lucky I am and thank the heavens every day that we found each other.
And now look at us! It’s 2020 and we’re closer friends now than we’ve ever been, but these are very strange times we are living in.
These are strange times. There’s nothing I’d like better right now than to be sitting in the same room with you, drinking coffee and chatting as we used to do. But the wonders of technology keep us connected.
They do indeed. And then of course, last year you decided to put all your hard-won knowledge and experience, together with James’s wizardry with a computer and form Platform House Publishing.
It is very surreal how Platform House Publishing came to be. I think it was a series of small decisions that led us to where we are now. I’ve always done all my own formatting and interior book design, and James has always created my covers. Then came the odd video trailer…
And from there a mighty business empire was launched… well, I’m sure it will be.
Now we are creating for others, just like you. I’ve come to realise that other authors need help with certain aspects of their books. We work and socialise within the great interconnected networks of Instagram and Facebook, and everyone on there has been so supportive that we wanted to give back that support in a practical manner. That’s why we desperately try to keep our prices as low as is feasibly possible.
And then last year when I came to you with my crazy plan to revisit my earlier novels and completely overhaul them with new formatting, interior illustrations and even new covers, you wholeheartedly supported me and said – “how can we help?”
To me, the whole idea of helping in anyway I can, is exciting. I honestly get butterflies in my stomach at the thought of formatting and book interior design. It makes me feel slightly less of an oddity even though no one else seems to enjoy formatting.
My problem is I have the vision, I can see what I want my books to look like, but I don’t have the technological know-how and I certainly don’t have the equipment to make those dreams a reality. And that’s where you come in. I’m sure there are thousands, millions of authors out there like me. They’ve written a great book, they’ve had it edited, but they need help to give it that final push, that polish that turns an okay book into a fantastic one.
I have to admit, I’m quite at home with technology. Despite being a writer with a great love of words, you know I’ve always struggled with mild dyslexia.
I know, and it’s amazing how you’ve overcome it and reached for your dream anyway.
It is so important to make a great first impression with your book. You can have the best story, superbly edited, but if the cover and interior formatting are off and unappealing, then a reader might just pass it by. We want to make sure that every book when it leaves us is the best it can possibly be, both aesthetically and in meeting all the standards required to publish.
It’s very true what they say – “the first bite is with the eye” – and I think that applies just as much to a book as to a meal.
Definitely, we eat with our eyes first. What with James being a chef he was born creative. His medium may have changed, but he’s still creating feasts.
So, he appreciates how true that saying is more than anyone. I really enjoy working with you, you always seem to know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, and over the years you’ve helped me polish the “Julia Blake” brand until I believe all my books have a certain look to them. Well, they soon will do. We have a few more left to transform.
I feel that we have made all your books look like “yours” and that they have the mark of your brand. It always sounds very corporate when I say that, but we are in business as writers, we are all small businesses and without a certain amount of “branding” we will never stand out.
And finally, we’re at the end of one more project together and that’s “Erinsmore”.
Oh, the epic saga that is “Erinsmore”. I think we have lived that fantasy as much as you have these past few weeks and it’s been such a joy. James, even as we speak, is in the depths of the “Erinsmore” fantasy creating an epic video trailer for you.
And I expect thoroughly enjoying it. I think between us we’ve created something incredible, and I can’t wait for this story to be re-launched on the world next week.
I think the story now resides within the packaging it’s always deserved. All those years ago when I first read “Erinsmore”, I knew it needed something extra special. James adores creating video trailers, it’s become his happy place, especially in these uncertain times.
And now, thanks to you, it’s got that special packaging. Anyway, do you realise we’ve been chatting for over two hours? Even virtually, there’s no shutting us up.
Once we start, there really is no stopping us!
And it’s now turning into Friday evening and I know you’ll need to go and make dinner for your family, as I have to. Do you have any plans for tonight?
This afternoon has been a joy though, a much-needed distraction from the world we’re currently living in. Well, Platform House is still open, I’m creating some special treats for another couple of authors, then I’m planning to do some writing as I’ve committed myself to Nano again this month. I’m certainly a glutton for punishment! But this book won’t write itself, and I really need it written ready for a Halloween release. Luckily, dinner tonight is in the hands of the professional.
Oh, wow! You certainly are a workaholic. I did think about taking part myself, but even with currently having a lot more time at home, what with planning for the launch of “Erinsmore” next week and with three other books to prepare for publication, I was afraid of biting off more than I could chew. Best of luck with everything, and I’m looking forward to our next coffee and chat session, even if it does have to be virtually.
I think I must be crazy as well to have set myself such a challenge, but I will do it, somehow.
I have faith in you.
And thank you for having me over for a virtual coffee and a chat about old times and new, it’s been fun.
It has, I’d like to thank the lovely Becky Wright for giving up her Friday afternoon to chat with me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed being able to eavesdrop. Have a good week everyone, and I’ll catch up with you all next Sunday.